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History of Mathematics
The Age of Discovery - Gravity and Gauss



The Age of Discovery - Gravity and Gauss
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   10.73

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    artillerymen, clockmakers, number-crunching, programmer, theoretical, time-keeping, weight-driven, multiplication, analytic, payroll, geometry, bricklayers, parabola, patronage, pointed, reappear
     content words:    Galileo Galilei, Rene Descartes, Carl Friedrich Gauss, When Gauss, Joseph Piazzi, John Napier, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace


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The Age of Discovery - Gravity and Gauss
By Colleen Messina
  

1     By the seventeenth century, mathematics had come a long way from the tallies and abacuses of the ancient world. Mathematicians had finally adopted the new Arabic numbers, as well as the symbols for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Logarithms made difficult problems much easier, and calculus opened up new possibilities in science. Mathematicians applied these new tools in exciting ways ranging from world exploration to astronomy. Ships crisscrossed the oceans to new places, and telescopes scanned the skies and discovered the elliptical orbits of planets. The understanding of gravity revolutionized military science. It was truly an age of discovery.
 
2     The discovery of gravity especially changed how people viewed the world. Up until the 16th century, people thought that heavy objects fell faster. A feisty Italian named Galileo Galilei had another idea. In 1585, he climbed to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa, made sure no one was down below, and dropped two objects. One object was heavy and the other was light, but both reached the ground at the same time. Galileo proved that objects fall at the same rate and accelerate as they fall. Eventually, military engineers understood that a cannonball shoots out in a straight path, but the force of gravity makes the cannonball fall downward in a curve called a parabola. The engineers could then fortify their strongholds in the right places, and artillerymen could shoot their cannons more accurately. Galileo's experiment revolutionized military science.
 
3     Galileo also did experiments with pendulums that helped clockmakers design accurate clocks. Seamen needed accurate time-keeping devices to navigate during long journeys. The weight-driven clocks of the previous centuries were not accurate enough; now seamen needed to measure minutes and seconds, so the new clocks were invaluable. Navigators then accurately plotted the daily positions of their ships on maps that had vertical and horizontal lines of latitude and longitude. When they connected the dots on these grids, they saw an accurate record of the ship's journey.

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